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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

The Word on the Bird

Graphic by Rei Yamada.

As the days grew shorter this past autumn and the temperature dipped closer to freezing, Grinnellians knew that the cold Iowa winter will soon be upon them. But, before the snow fell, this vast prairie landscape turned from idyllic and serene to a scene resembling something from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror film “The Birds.” Hundreds of crows descend onto the trees of Grinnell, their cries echoing as darkness falls and they prepare to sleep.

“Crows have been a problem on and off. It seems like it’s more of a problem now than in the past. It could be related to global warming, since the winters aren’t as cold the crows don’t have to go as far south. It could be habitat loss in the countryside,” said Mike Burt, associate director of facilities management.

The College and the town of Grinnell have dealt with bird problems for years. Large flocks of crows would cover the sky and make a mess all over campus.

“Our problem started a few years back, on the northeast corner of campus, where we had a very large sycamore tree. We had all of our carpool cars there, which got really messed up. So, we bought a BirdXPeller. We bought that for selfish reasons since we just had to get them out of there, but then the birds went right onto central campus, so we bought a second unit, and then we had to buy a third unit ‘cause we had trouble down by Grinnell House,” Burt said.

The BirdXPeller will be familiar to students, who may not recognize it by name but will certainly recognize the loud automated bird cries that echo off the top of Noyce Science Center. While the birds have not been as bad this winter, the biggest issues re-emerged when construction on the Humanities Social Science Center (HSSC) began three years ago. Since there were large construction work site lights on 24 hours a day, the crows would roost by the HSSC when it got dark.

“The crows just loved it,” Burt said.

Since construction is winding down, the crows have relocated to the downtown Grinnell area, specifically the trees in Central Park. Burt attributes the crows’ newfound appreciation for their Central Park roost to two things: downtown is warmer than the countryside and new lights have been installed.

“They light downtown up, so the crows love it,” Burt said.

While it has been more peaceful and cleaner on campus without hundreds of birds taking up residence here, they have caused new issues in town. Grinnell Police Chief Dennis Reilly explained that crow management has been even more difficult because of Grinnell’s rural location.

“We are not animal or bird control experts. We’re surrounded by cornfields, so during the day the crows are filling their bellies in the corn and bean fields. The crows have been around for years, in the public safety and residential areas and trees,” Reilly said.

While the crows are nothing new, this is the first time they have taken over Central Park. The crows sitting in Central Park like it because of the wide variety of branches to roost in, but the trees they chose have branches that extend over the sidewalks.

“The birds were pooping on the sidewalk, and when we put the holiday decorations up, they were pooping on the decorations,” Reilly said.

The City plans to trim the branches once it gets warmer and has also used similar technology to the BirdXPeller to discourage the crows from roosting in the park. While the noise worked for a week, the crows came back and have continued to poop on the ground. Reilly acknowledges that ultimately, battling the crows simply means moving them around until they don’t bother anyone else.

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